Tuesday, June 23, 2009
There are two facets of our global economy which have an enormous impact on all levels of society - financial markets and oil. Both of these industries have experienced massive growth over the last half century that their impact has already played a role in shaping modern history. It is therefore important that I feel comfortable with my own understanding of these subjects even though it can be a tough go at times to read such material. There are plenty of other books I would prefer to be leisurely enjoying on my freetime.
The Partnership is a book about the history of Goldman Sachs - arguably the most successful investment bank in the market. Its rise from a modest American bank into a global superpower of finance is one of the greatest expressions of US-styled capitalism ever witnessed. It will forever make up a part of business history. Even more, several of its CEOs and partners have gone onto important public positions, thus meaning that GS' reach has effects on the political sphere as well.
Even in this time of resentment towards investment banks, there are certain positive traits that Goldman Sachs deserves to be commended for. Its belief in meritocracy, team results, and absence of politicking is commendable. There are lessons to be learned for any business manager in areas such as goal setting for employees, recruiting and running effective meetings.
To fully appreciate the book does require a certain level of financial understanding. I have a basic understanding of the subject and at times struggled to grasp certain concepts being discussed. This leads to another point: what level of understanding is required before you are justifiably allowed to bash the banking sector? Certainly there are plenty (millions) of people who, after having read a handful of articles on the industry since the crisis came into full swing, feel their insights are worthy of getting them on the short list for the Nobel Prize in economics.
I have read several books on the industry, taken a few courses and follow financial papers with regularity and I still do not feel adequate discussing the topic. However, I will make a small observation regarding The Partnership, which was published in 2008 before the crack of Lehman Brothers. Would Ellis have written this book in such a glowing light if he were publishing it in 2009? His praise for the firm rings much more hollow now after seeing how the events in finance have unfolded. Throughout the book he painted a picture of an institution that had made next to no mistakes. The last chapter was written just when first signs of the sub-prime crisis was emerging and he made it look as if Goldman Sachs had if anything profited from the situation. We now know this not to be true.
Goldman Sachs had to convert itself to a holding company so it could gain eligibility to the Federal Reserves emergency lending facilities. Yes, Goldman Sachs has already paid back the US government for lending it received but it did need government assistance to stave off collapse. Adding these points to an additional chapter would have not been enough for this book. It would really require a complete reexamination of the superior, worshiping tone that permeates throughout every page.
Goodbye Germany! For the next few weeks I will be heading to the sunny shores of Italy. In terms of the upcoming summer reads that will be making the journey with me are Bellow"s "Herzog" and Updike's "Couples". I look forward to writing about them when I am back.